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Food & Wellness Brands, Beware: How Redesigns Go Wrong

When you were a kid, you probably begged your parents to let you have cookies before you had dinner, right? You wanted the sweets before you ate your vegetables.

Now that you’re running marketing for a food, beverage or wellness brand, you want the good stuff (cool-looking, trendy identity, and packaging) before you’ve had the good-for-you stuff (business strategy).

We’ll be the grown-ups here and tell you: No design until you’ve done the strategy first.

This design-before-strategy trap is becoming even more prevalent: We’re finding that about 75% of our prospective clients just want something pretty and they want it now. Why the rush? These are the most common reasons we see for moving forward quickly with design changes:

  • Brands haven’t allocated appropriate resources (dollars or people) to develop a sound foundational strategy.
  • CEOs and CMOs have been burned in the past by hasty redesigns, and they’re not convinced they should spend the time or money to do it right. See the irony here?
  • People in business tend to overestimate their own taste and expertise; they’ve supervised design projects before so they think they can fast-track the latest one.
  • Design is a tangible outcome and research is not, and it’s hard for people to be patient enough to wait for that outcome.
  • There’s a false sense of urgency: the sales team wants the change now, retailers are barking at the door, and competitors are coming into the market.

We get it. Setting the stage for an effective design or redesign takes time: The process we walk our clients through typically runs six to eight months. It’s intimidating: Research might reveal mistakes you’ve made; category reviews might show that your competitors are trouncing you at retail. It takes resources: You need to allocate a budget and secure the commitment from your leadership team.

And it’s worth pointing out that brand strategy does not equal creative strategy; one comes before the other, which is important to keep in mind when you set your expectations for working with an agency.

The Problems of Redesigning without Strategy

Design becomes a beauty contest. Let’s line up three splashy new packaging systems and pick one. Which one? The one the loudest voice in the room (the CEO) favors. This is a great approach only if your leadership team knows exactly how to pick a winning, on-brand, culturally relevant design that not only appeals to current customers but also captures a huge new audience. (I have met just two in thirty years who could do this.)

Design is just guess. Without the appropriate competitive analysis, trend forecasting, white-space mapping, and brand-driven positioning language, creative execution is a total shot in the dark. How do you make design decisions that will stand out on shelf, attract buyers, and stand the test of time if you don’t understand what the market needs and wants?

Design is a short-cut solution. You’re under pressure from retail partners seeking greater velocity, and you need a redesign — fast. So you skip the three months of strategy work and go straight to picking colors and typefaces.

Design is knee-jerk reaction. You’re just chasing trends in search of a sales spike. So you redesign every 18 to 24 months in response to what’s hot in ingredients, graphics, or food photography.

Redesigning becomes an endless cycle. When the creative execution fails to move the needle, and it inevitably does, the marketing team takes another swing at it. Bad design begets bad design, and pretty soon everyone thinks it’s the design’s (and the designers’) fault. It’s the natural outcome every time.

What does a smart redesign in our space look like? Check out Kashi’s 2016 brand overhaul. They updated the logo, dropping the swishy rectangular background and emphasizing the leaf motif. The mark plays a more prominent role on packaging, yet it’s still familiar to fans. New boxes feature super-close product photography on a stark white background. A primary typography system reinforces the brand’s iconic green. It’s a pretty major redesign, but still completely in line with what the brand was before. The Kellogg team clearly built the redesign against Kashi’s existing brand strategy and in response to the marketplace, instead of changing for the sake of change.

And we’ll bet that Kashi’s marketers won’t be doing another redesign anytime soon.

You only have to look at Coke and Pepsi to know that a brand’s design can last for years. They hang on to those design systems because there’s so much equity — customers freak out if the brands make even the smallest tweak.

So, that last design your brand team unveiled … How’s that going? Not what you wanted? Thinking about a do-over? Let us guide you through it — the right way.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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6 Ways Agencies Fail Food & Beverage Brands

As the food and beverage category continues to hone in on the importance of natural brands across all channels, getting investors is no longer the challenge — because better-for-you brands are driving category growth and, consequently, private equity investment in food outpaces all other categories. The pace of change in the last three years has outstripped even the staggering changes of the previous decade. Natural and better-for-you brands have moved beyond the realm of Whole Foods and made Costco and Walmart the biggest retail buyers of organic products.

The game has changed; investment opportunities appear to be falling from the sky for anyone with a clean ingredient deck and a crumb of a brand story.

But we have spent the better part of the last decade deep in the boardrooms, farms, and factories with some of the well-respected players who have driven this change, and we have some potentially bad news. If you have invested in rebranding within the last three years and are not experiencing the growth you expected, your agency may have failed you. This white paper explores six unexpected ways in which we have seen the agency drive the naturals brand off the proverbial cliff.

1. Sanitizing the truth about your brand. When the creative agency doesn’t take the time to learn, analyze, and ultimately challenge the category conventions or the closed-loop thinking of the founder-owner, the company’s culture, product offering, and vision, they inadvertently default to cool and clever tactics. Without mind-melding over the real pain points (or legitimate white space innovation), any creative outreach is more likely to be slick and not grounded in business strategy. And — because they are moving quickly — they tell the brand owners what they want to hear instead of the sometimes deeply blemished truth in order to get the creative ideas approved. The result is unownable beauty.

Need proof? Flip over any better-for-you packaged food and read an origin story that sounds like this.

“I had this challenge/pain point and so I made a company. Insert clever/humorous/witty tone to cover up the lack of depth in the origin story and add sizzle.”

– The Earnest Founder

2. Faking the category audit. Was your category audit insightful or did your agency merely check the box? The most common complaint we hear from brand owners, particularly in the naturals space, is that their category audit was too sterile and looked like something an intern could have produced using Google in an afternoon.A meaningful category audit must include the sometimes-ugly reality of retail. At a minimum, this means that the category audit should showcase lighting conditions, shelf restrictions, and key adjacencies from multiple locations. This along with analysis of your channel strategy is important if your category audit is to show you both potential threats and budding opportunities for your brand.

3. Claiming social media engagement will get you trial and velocity. Many agencies are still telling clients that likes and mentions will drive sales. And perhaps while the meter is running on that vegan snack fitness influencer contract there is some traction. We have seen it time and again — when that contract ends, the likes go away; the brand is forced to resort to buying likes with coupons and promo codes. Product efficacy, a contrarian point-of-view, and transparency to back up any claims of authenticity go further than any celebrity endorsement. And while we won’t discount the growth opportunities of influencer marketing, defaulting to this single tactic won’t get you the velocities you’re looking for. Bottom line, your marketing strategy needs to be multi-faceted.

4. Calling star-power strategic branding. Using celebrities can be a powerful endorsement for your brand, particularly when they fit the positioning of your brand ethos. We have seen the likes of Jennifer Aniston, Kobe Bryant and many others assist with a brands growth potential. However, branded products and famous people in ads only works for a few minutes. Once you stop paying endorsements, your brand disappears. You also do not have control over that person’s personal life. You can look to Tiger Woods or Lance Armstrong to see what sort of collateral damage a celebrity can have on your brand. Unless you are a multi-national, we suggest you spend your marketing dollars elsewhere.

5. Assuming your consumer speaks your brand’s language. Marketing or advertising filled with insider jargon, certification claims, and tons of “us” vs. “them” verbiage emphasizes the negatives instead of the lifestyle associated with the brand. These tactics won’t grow a brand, increase its sphere of influence (among people, not influencers), nor get into a new customer’s consideration set. This approach automatically assumes that your consumer-to-be speaks your language. In extreme instances, we have seen this create a retail environment where the front-line employees have been poisoned by the marketing team to think unflatteringly about customers. The right way is to use brand strategy to decide why your brand exists in the world and who you can help because of it. Once clear on your brand’s purpose, the act of profiling your audience moves from merely demographic and leans into ambition, hope, human tendencies, and inspiration. We all want to believe we are working toward becoming a better version of ourselves. Brands, when they consider real people to be worthy of them, help us get on and stay on the path.

6. Using squishy strategy so the creative team isn’t fenced in. The agency creates a strategy, the client signs off, and then… the creative team comes up with a cooler idea. So the agency is forced to change the strategy to match the creative concept. Abraham Lincoln once asked, “How many legs does a dog have if you count the tail?” He answered, “Four. Calling the tail a leg does not make it a leg.” Killer creative ideas are not brand strategy. Killer creative’s intent is to get people’s attention so that they notice (and buy) your brand. Brand strategy’s intent is to evolve the company, its culture, offerings, sales opportunities, and ultimately its contribution to society in order to grow a large tribe of believers both inside and outside the company. A case in point: In our work with Essentia Water, we inherited a brand strategy that was clearly designed to produce adverts filled with blonde women in white yoga pants sitting on the beach (despite the fact that the data pointed to a racially diverse audience focused on being active in radically diverse ways). After scrapping that strategy and building one from the ground up, says this brand is on fire.

Consumers’ needs, competition, marketplace, and channels all change. Which means positioning needs to be refined or overhauled every once in a while to make sure your brand stays relevant.

We recommend that each brand that we work with establishes a scheduled audit and tune-up at a minimum of five-year increments — unless something significant has happened with your market or something is NOT working. Obviously, if your brand is losing share, don’t wait five years to make a change. But you should also be aware that a brand strategy driven rebound takes take 12-24 months before you can sit back and know with confidence that you have nailed it.

If you have gone through a rebrand in the last 18-24 months and aren’t realizing growth, I suggest a reality check that begins with the following questions before blaming your current agency.

  1. Is your internal team truly following the new strategy or have you tweaked it to make yourselves more comfortable?
  2. Did your strategy produce an innovation pipeline that has retail buyers looking to your brand for what is next in the category?

If after careful reflection you feel like your agency has failed you, or it’s time for a tune-up, it may be time for Retail Voodoo.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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Change is Hard. These Seven Tactics Make it Easier to Manage

“Things change.” “Change is good.” “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Platitudes about change abound, but here’s one thing you won’t see on a motivational poster backed by a scenic mountain photo: Change is hard.

It’s supposed to be. Change is risky, scary, inconvenient, messy. And we see it all, up close. Food and wellness brands come to us when they’re on the brink of change or in the thick of it — change that they haven’t anticipated and don’t necessarily want, often brought on by rapidly shifting consumer preferences and a turbulent retail landscape.

The changes we facilitate tend to be monumental — not a packaging tweak but a holistic repositioning or refocused brand strategy. And sometimes they’re painful, as we discovered when one of our recent clients came to us because they were floundering after a rebrand/renaming. Based on our consumer data that showed that customers still knew the brand by its original name, we recommended that the company return to that name. It was a real leadership moment: The CEO had to step up, own the mistake, and be the bright light shining through the chaos.

So let’s say you’re the wolf: You’ve been tasked with instigating or managing a seismic shift in your organization. Maybe there’s been a management shakeup, or the CEO may be looking to sell. Maybe you once led the category but you haven’t kept up with consumers’ wants and whims and you’ve lost share. Maybe a new competitor is chewing up the category. Whatever’s sparking the change, you’re expected to guide the team through it.

Take a deep breath and ready yourself with these tactics we’ve gathered from helping our clients deal with change wisely and well:

1. Acknowledge the fear. Understand the psychology of what you’re about to do and don’t dismiss your team’s fears. If change is challenging for you, it’s likely more so for others in the organization, who feel powerless and worry that their comfortable routines will be turned upside-down. Listen and share frequently and strategically; gather input and buy-in along the way. But don’t unveil the finished work until it’s ready for prime time.

2. Expect resistance. From all quarters: long-term employees who are happy with how things have been done forever, finance & operations people who are charged with getting results, marketing staffers who know the biggest impact will be on their department. Know that the sales team will be early and vocal objectors — they’ve been successfully selling the product for years, and they’ll object to changing their pitch. But they’ll also be the fastest adopters once they “get” the vision.

3. Start with strategy. A strong strategic foundation — one that addresses consumer trends, acknowledges market realities, and drives business growth — gives the team confidence and common ground. Strategy becomes a toolbox that guides everyone — from the CEO to the front desk receptionist — on how to behave in their role to contribute to the brand’s success.

4. Enlist advocates. Creating a solid group of key stakeholders at the outset gives you an internal leadership team that co-authors the brand and becomes your ally when it comes time to strategically leak news. Encourage your advocates to share their personal experiences as insiders involved in the process along with information about how the project is unfolding and what’s to come.

5. But know that not everyone will get on board. In fact, we request that HR management is part of any rebranding or repositioning project we’re involved with because there’s always a training/coaching component to change. And staffers who resist and fight their way through the strategy development process may need to be asked to leave before they poison the well. Ask your HR partner for help identifying potential resisters and getting them on track or out the door.

6. Make it feel special. Tap your internal advocates to help build a sense that the change represents an opportunity to further a brand they’re passionate about. Connect this initiative to the brand’s greater purpose. Celebrate milestones and create momentum to fuel excitement.

7. Use language to gain buy-in. Reality exists in language. Having the brand strategy and talking points that answer questions will be key to calming your team’s nerves. We use language to teach the teams we work with how to describe their products and why they exist in the world. This is especially crucial for the sales team: Unless they buy in, they’ll never be able to make a presentation about the product.

Change can be humbling — it means admitting that what you’ve been doing isn’t working anymore, that your competitors are moving faster than you are. Or that you’re just flat-out wrong. That’s a real test for company leaders.

Done well, change can be a catalyst not for fear and internal squabbling, but for collaboration, growth, and rededication to the cause. The objective is not comfortable complacency, but transformational business success. On the other side awaits greater clarity, sharpened vision, and teams that are aligned with the vision and confident in moving forward.

Change ain’t easy. That’s why it’s essential. And when you’re ready, we’re here to help.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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Remaking a Beloved Brand: How to Keep Your Loyalists and Hook New Fans

Renovating an existing brand is never easy. But when you’re overhauling a beloved brand with passionate employees and diehard customers, it’s painful. Really painful.

You can’t alienate your loyal buyers — and risk a dip in sales — in the chase for a broader audience. Nor can you alienate your internal supporters, those who’ve been with the company from the beginning and carry the brand’s DNA. With both groups, the devotion that makes them fierce allies also makes them speed bumps for change. (And as we’ve explored, business change ain’t easy.)

So why endure the agony? Because not doing anything means the death of the brand. These are the two most common prompts we see for this type of rebrand:

  1. You’re seeing some erosion in marketplace relevance: a dip in sales, a disruptive competitor. You’ve gone from being the must-buy to being seen as outdated in your category.
  2. You’ve got new leadership (perhaps that’s even you) tasked with a business turnaround. You have to get traction and prove to your retail partners that the change will make a difference, and the fastest way to telegraph that is a rebrand.

The path forward in redefining your brand already exists: Use data to scrub away the BS that’s clouding your judgment. We’ll show you how that’s possible based on the work we did with two beloved brands.

Renovating a Flagging Sub-Brand

Russell Stover was the first company to make sugar-free chocolate that actually tastes like chocolate. Then Hershey entered the game and gobbled up a big chunk of the market. Management couldn’t understand why the brand wasn’t growing at a time when shoppers were becoming more health-conscious.

Consumer data gave us three key insights: First, those sugar-free buyers were reluctant buyers. They were consuming sugar-free products because they had to, primarily to manage diabetes. Two, the product formulation contained an artificial sweetener, which gave consumers pause. And three, the brand’s visual language felt unsophisticated, almost medicinal. The packaging misrepresented the “tastes like real chocolate” attribute, making the product look like a deprivation instead of a treat. And the ingredients misaligned with the expectation of the “better for you” consumer seeking not just a lower-calorie product but also one without artificial sweetener.

Our recommendations: Reformulate and redesign. We recaptured the Russell Stover brand’s heritage of great taste, appealing to chocolate lovers who need to reduce their sugar intake rather than chasing better-for-you buyers.

The lesson here? The trend you think you can leverage — in this case, the BFY trend — may be what’s killing you, and you can’t use sleight-of-hand or advertising to trick the consumer. We took the liability and turned it into an asset: Don’t sell the low sugar; sell the real chocolate taste.

Backfilling Aging Loyalists

REI built a following among avid outdoor enthusiasts who geek out over the technical specs of their hiking packs and climbing gear. But REI hit more than just a speed bump. Their problem was twofold: First, many of those early REI adopters were getting older and no longer participating in their sports as frequently or at the same high level. More important, though, newbies were put off by what the die-hards loved: the technical, geeky nature of the brand’s retail experience and messaging.

We used external research and competitive profiling to overcome a longstanding set of internal strategic assumptions that existed because employees believed their customers were just like them. (We call this the Brand Credibility Paradox.) We leveraged REI’s membership data and other market intel to show them that their core audience was aging and that their longstanding messaging was not resonating with a new generation.

So we transformed REI’s messaging, moving away from technical aspects and product performance and focusing instead on the experience of being in the great outdoors. This approach appeals to both old-timers who have a romantic association with their sport and to millennials who dream of an active outdoor lifestyle.

The lesson here? What has made your brand a magnet for longtime fans (and for your employees, too) may just be the attribute that alienates your next generation of customers.

Brands have the power to create a small tribe that no competitor can reach, but eventually, you’ll wind up only talking amongst yourselves. To grow — and we assume that’s why you’re here — you have to tap into the thing that the loyalists love about your brand and amplify it so others hear the call.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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Consumer Research: Ask the Right Questions of the Right People to Yield the Right Insights

Analysis paralysis.

It’s an affliction that’s all too common among marketers in the Wellness and Food & Beverage spaces. We’ve come to recognize the symptoms:

  • An overabundance of customer data, period
  • Misunderstanding of what that data is really telling you
  • Data that sits idly in spreadsheets, inactive in decision-making processes
  • Reliance on historical data to drive future plans
  • Overconfidence that comes when data confirms what you already know

To make smart decisions that grow your brand, you need the right kind of data, gathered from the right people, analyzed in the right ways, and used to generate real insight.

Seek the Bad News

The biggest problem we see with consumer research is confirmation bias. When the data tells you that every assumption you have about who your customers are and why they buy is correct, you feel smart. Like you know what you’re doing.

Marketers either avoid doing deep research or frame survey questions (consciously or not) that lead to known answers. We get that research is nerve-wracking: There’s always a risk that the data might reveal bad news about customers’ perception of your brand.

But here’s the thing: You want the bad news. Bad news is insight. And you can do something with insight.

Usage & Attitude Study: Just a Starting Point

Most marketers do a half-hearted job of understanding their consumers and their preferences, relying on the usage & attitude (U&A) study, a common research tool. It reveals:

  • Who uses your product, when, and how
  • How and why customers choose your product
  • How many people use it, and how frequently

U&A studies are effective at measuring certain aspects of the brand, both quantitatively (what’s going on) and qualitatively (why it’s going on).

But as it’s typically gathered, U&A data doesn’t give you the full picture. It tells you who has bought your product in the past, and why — but it doesn’t help you identify unmet needs in a broader universe of potential customers. More dangerously, it can reinforce your existing strategic assumptions instead of digging deep to discover what else is possible. Backward-looking U&A data — what worked to get you where you are — won’t get you to the future of your brand.

Reach Beyond Your Universe

If your goal is to increase sales and grow audiences — and it should be! — then you need to design your U&A study to help you understand not just your current customers, but also your lapsed customers and non-customers.

Two things to address here: 1) the survey group and 2) the questions.

U&A studies are commonly conducted by email or online outreach to existing loyalists, so the data is flawed from the get-go. You need to reach outside your database, working with a smart research partner with access to the right lists.

Then, you need to frame questions to address these non-buyers. Why did some people buy your product and then stop? Why do non-customers buy from your competitors instead of you? Probe for psychographic and behavioral insights, too: What do consumers think and feel about each brand? How do other products fit into their lifestyle? What might you do to change their minds? Again, a qualified researcher can bring an impartial eye to the survey design.

Look Backward & Forward

To give you a sense of the potential problem: One of our new clients came to us with customer insights that showed they’re in the top six brands in their category. But Nielsen and other channel data indicates that they’re not even in the top 15 nationally. Why the disconnect? They surveyed their own loyalists, a die-hard group of regional customers. Asking the wrong questions of people who already love your brand will give you broken data. Data that reinforces your own bias, that won’t guide you to growth.

When our clients have either zero or flawed data, we bring pure research companies we partner with into the mix. These experts have written hundreds of surveys and know what questions to ask. Most important, they’re agnostic about what they’re going to uncover, even it if looks like bad news to the brand’s marketing team.

Done right, U&A studies capture both backward-looking information about your loyalists and future-gazing data about the segments and psychographics of a broader audience. Then, based on what we know about your fans, we can invite other people into the tribe. The right questions asked of the right people yield the right insights that actually matter to your business. Paralysis averted.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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Guiding Growth for a Passion Brand

We’ve seen it so often it’s become a cliché: The veteran marketer, disillusioned by the lack of opportunity for career growth in a big CPG company, jumps to an emerging food or wellness brand. She’s inspired by the founder’s passion and excited to bring her expertise to the table.

And then a few weeks into the job, she realizes that things aren’t … well … as she expected they’d be.

The founder/owner’s drive, passion, and ability to move quickly and on the cheap works great until about $5mm, and then it gets in the way. The brand is ripe for growth, yet the team is hesitant to let go of what brought them this far. And while there’s tons of opportunity for new revenue, the owner doesn’t want to be seen as chasing big bucks.

Sound familiar?

If you’ve come from a big marketing engine to help a fledgling brand grow, you’ll likely find that most of what you know isn’t going to work for your new boss. And until he recognizes that you truly get his vision and share his passion, he’ll resist — or even fear — your expertise.

Over years of working with CMOs in the exact spot you’re in, we’ve devised a number of strategies that can help you get your job done in a way that makes a meaningful difference for your brand. Let us show you the way:

Recognize that your No. 1 job isn’t marketing. It’s talking the founder/owner off the ledge. Convincing her that business success does not come at the expense of personal reputation or brand history.

Understand that it’s not business, it’s personal. The brand’s biggest hurdle is the founder’s emotional relationship with it. He looks back with nostalgia to the good old days. Fear lies at the core of the problem: The founder fears that the origin story will be overwritten, and that success will make him look like a sellout.

The founder’s deep attachments affect everything from the color used on a logo to the proper use of the office coffee maker. These preferences may appear irrational, but they’re seated in the owner’s blood, sweat, and tears.

Be an archaeologist. Your first task is to understand the brand’s history so that when you make a recommendation it’s steeped in that history. Dig deep, find every bone in the dirt and bring it to the surface, ask tons of questions. This process of excavation should take three to four months.

And a psychologist. Founders are passionate, entrepreneurial, driven people who are great at invention. But when it comes to maturing a brand or facing a growth challenge, they often make decisions based on personal biases. As the new CMO, you’ll find yourself in the role of therapist as your boss transitions the brand into something different. She’ll be learning to trust others, let go of the past, and with your guidance, develop a new ideal for the brand she started.

Listen reflectively. In every meeting with the owner, every casual conversation, repeat what he says — not to be a parrot but to clarify, learn, and check your assumptions.

Practice tough love. This where your best negotiating/politicking skills will come into play. Whether you do the work internally or hire an external firm, you’ll be in the middle of the relationship, as the founder who has hired you to grow or salvage the company will be intimately involved in each conversation and decision.

Take it slow. Resist the urge to solve the problem immediately. What might make you look like a superhero will feel threatening to the founder. If it’s that easy to right the ship, he’ll feel incompetent for not having done it himself.

If you find yourself in this position, know that you’re not alone: So many CMOs that have landed with passion-driven food and wellness brands have been here, too — and we’ve worked with a lot of them. You’re in for an up-and-down ride. And your biggest challenge may be ahead because you’ll soon start to lose some of the objectivity that made you such a great hire.

Need help? Need to vent? Give us a call.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

Connect with David
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Prepare Your Lifestyle Brand for the Next Market Correction

Michael Meade once said, “A false sense of security is the only kind there is.”

If you’re in a market or industry that’s seeing a lot of growth, it’s easy to buy into the belief that when it comes to your brand’s longevity, the sky’s the limit. Strategy be damned; your brand is invincible.

The reality is that your brand’s long-term viability cannot be reliant on market or industry performance, world-class packaging, or even competitive pricing. There’s some security in those things, but it’s always temporary.

To survive the ebbs and flows of the global marketplace, your lifestyle brand has to be well positioned — even (and maybe especially) during periods of economic growth.

Price Isn’t Everything

When consumers are spending money left and right, brands don’t really have to compete on anything. Almost any brand can thrive in a booming economy. But as soon as the economy starts going downhill, the center of the store becomes too crowded. There are simply too many options and not enough customers to buy them.

There’s a dichotomy we’ve talked about before called the Walmart-Tiffany Effect, which is this idea that the most successful brands survive on either end of the value spectrum. Walmart brands are the ones that compete on price; Tiffany brands, on prestige.

The Walmart and Tiffany extremes become much more clearly delineated during an economic downturn. This is when the brands that live in the middle (which is most brands) are faced with the reality that they can no longer ride solely on the coattails of their market or their industry.

These undifferentiated brands are typically the first to go when an economic crisis hits.

Good Design Isn’t Everything

Too many lifestyle brands equate hip, well-designed packaging or even a slick website with brand legitimacy. And when the economy is thriving and people are buying your product, why would you not?

Unfortunately, good design can lead to a false sense of security during these periods of economic growth. When shelf appeal plays such a big role in your brand’s marketing strategy, it’s easy for design to trump actual strategy.

But brands that rely on design at the expense of strategy are rarely successful in the long run. Under the guise of, “Look what we can do for you!” they hide behind pretty packaging and empty promises of product features and benefits.

While these brands look beautiful, they don’t stand for anything.

Figure Out Your Brand Strategy Now, Before It’s Too Late

If your lifestyle brand wants a fighting chance at surviving a market correction, good design or competitive pricing is not the answer. The key to weathering (and even taking advantage of) an economic downturn is to start focusing on brand strategy now. Don’t let the market necessitate a change in how you market your product or who you’re marketing to.

Because brand strategy is an exercise that requires a considerable investment, a Hail Mary attempt to fix whatever is broken with your brand simply won’t work. By the time a solution is in place or the economy is on the upswing, it’s likely too late.

Know Where Your Brand is Going & How to Get There

We like to think about brand strategy like a flight plan. A flight plan will only work if:

  • Everyone who’s involved in getting that plane from point A to point B knows exactly what’s happening, when it’s happening, and who needs to be involved in the process at various points along the way. Even if the pilot is the one drafting the flight plan, dissemination is crucial.
  • The plan is constructed when the plane is safely on the ground. Trying to figure out where your plane is going once it’s already up in the air is like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted; the intention is there, but it’s too late to be effective.

Brand strategy is no different.

When it comes to strategic brand development, timing is everything. The right time to build your brand strategy is not when a crisis hits. The right time is always now, even if the market is trending in your favor.

What’s more, brand strategy isn’t just for your marketing team. It’s for your entire company. It’s cultural strategy, sales strategy, design strategy — it’s everything, all together.

Everyone from your C-Suite to your sales department to your internal operations team should know your brand strategy inside and out. Being on the same page about that strategy ensures you’re all heading in the same direction, in good times and in bad.

Need help corralling your team? Drop us a line:

Diana Fryc

For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

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Better-for-you Businesses: How to Rebrand the Right Way

Maybe your food, beverage, wellness or fitness business isn’t going as well as planned. Sales are on the decline, and you’ve been unable to adapt to changing consumer preferences. Or perhaps you’ve acquired a new brand and want to know how — or if — to integrate it with your existing product line.

These are just a few of the many (valid) reasons your company may be considering a rebrand.

The problem is that too many retail companies aren’t clear on what to expect from the rebranding process and how they should rebrand in light of that, and they end up going through the process far too frequently.

The decision to rebrand shouldn’t simply be a reaction to immediate market conditions or a new competitor, and it definitely shouldn’t be taken lightly. A rebrand has to get to the heart of what matters to your company internally and what will matter in the future to your key audiences — or it will inevitably fail.

If you’re rebranding the right way, it will change your entire company from the inside out.

Tackling the Obstacles to a Successful Rebrand

Not ready to take the rebranding step on your own? A brand strategy firm can guide you through the process.

They’ll be there to ask the right questions and steer your company in the right direction when things veer off track. Most importantly, a brand strategy firm will help your team tackle some of the biggest obstacles to a successful rebrand: misunderstanding, lack of enrollment, organizational psychology, and misplaced expectations.


When you hear the term ‘rebrand,’ what comes to mind? A new logo? Revamped packaging architecture? These elements can certainly be part of the equation, but they’re never the whole picture.

It’s easy to mistake branding for graphic identity, especially when you consider the origins of the term. There was a time when a ‘brand’ wasn’t this intangible thing that it is now; it was the scar you marked your cattle with so no one would steal from your herd. Even centuries later, it’s not surprising that this connotation still lingers.

But a new logo or an identity change does not a rebrand make. A rebrand requires positioning and strategy — it’s much closer to business strategy than it is to graphic design or marketing.

Getting this definition right is the first step in considering a rebrand, and it requires an awareness from everyone at your organization, from the top down.

Lack of Enrollment

There’s an old-school MBA perception that many CEOs share about whose world branding falls into. It’s easy for better-for-you brand owners/operators to chalk up branding as a “marketing thing,” passing off rebranding work to a CMO or marketing team without a second thought.

But if a rebrand is more than just a new logo — if it’s an integral part of business strategy — then the rebranding process cannot happen in a black box. There absolutely needs to be buy-in from leadership from the very beginning.

A brand strategy firm can provide the framework to make sure that happens.

We have something in our contract called the “Been Burned Clause,” which is our tongue-in-cheek way of addressing the fact that some of our clients have been hurt by working with an agency in the past who made promises but failed to deliver. We ensure this doesn’t happen in our partnership by mandating that our clients have key leadership in the room for brand strategy sessions from the outset. If even one member of the C-suite or upper management team can’t make that initial meeting, we’ll reschedule it. We’ll do this as many times as it takes because we know how important it is.

Organizational Psychology

Every consumer brand has internal assumptions about what they are and what they bring to the table. That’s a given. Without someone to challenge these biases, however, they can present immovable obstacles to the rebranding process.

One of the most powerful things we get to do as a brand strategy firm is help CPG and retail brands sacrifice their sacred cows on the altar of impartiality, bringing an objective, outside perspective to rebranding conversations. We’re there to point to the cold, hard facts and push leadership to reframe how they’ve perceived their company, culture, and products in light of data they may never have considered.

Case in point: We’ve worked with food and beverage brands that have assumed (and asserted) for years that their product just tastes better than everyone else’s. All it takes is us setting up a blind taste test for them to fundamentally re-evaluate the one thing they’ve staked their marketing claim on for so long. By facilitating exercises like these, we compel our clients to rethink their positioning in a way that will fundamentally alter their rebranding strategy.

Misplaced Expectations

Since we’ve already established that a rebrand is more than just a logo change, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the rebranding process takes time.

But if that misunderstanding is in place — if leadership, in particular, hasn’t bought into the realities of the investment required for a successful rebrand — then expectations of timing and ROI will inevitably be mislaid.

A good brand strategy firm will establish clear expectations for the rebranding process right away. And they’ll be there to take the heat when things don’t go according to plan so no one on your team has to.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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Expand Your Brand Globally Like Starbucks, Disney and Sur la Table

As a parent, it’s almost impossible not to appreciate the genius of Disney’s branding.

Not only has Disney developed design language that’s about as evocative as it gets (consider the reality that just seeing a pair of Mickey Mouse ears can transport a child and even some adults to a different world) — they’ve also done a remarkable job of universalizing their brand. There are Disney stores and theme parks all over the world, and parents from Japan to the UK have rolled their eyes and reluctantly given in to an umpteenth viewing of Frozen. Disney is one of the few, notable brands that all of us across the globe have in common.

Disney’s success is not due to the fact that their movies are fantastic (they are) or that their theme parks are the “Happiest Places on Earth” (they are, unless you’re a parent with cranky toddlers) but that they’ve figured out how to speak to a universal truth: We all need a little magic in our lives.

The thing that makes Disney “Disney” is not their characters or their theme parks but the magic they inspire.

What is Universal About Your Brand?

Before marketing your brand on a global level, you have to recognize the intrinsic aspect of your brand that can speak to people all over the world, regardless of how old they are, where they live, how much money they make, or what they do. This is the universal truth of your brand — it should drive your brand promise and serve as the foundation for both your local and global marketing strategy.

To figure out your brand’s universal truth, go back to the basics. Strip the graphical identity you’ve developed away and think about the primary reason someone (anyone, in fact) would be interested in your product.

To start, ask: What is it about your brand that speaks to a more basic, instinctual need? If you’re in the food and beverage industry, you can stand on the promise that your product meets a universal need to eat or drink. That’s simple enough, right? But truly setting your brand apart requires tapping into a deeper human longing for love, acceptance, security, adventure — whatever the case may be. This connection to a higher need is your brand’s bread and butter.

Starbucks and the Need for Belonging

Starbucks is one of the most widely recognized and globally successful brands of all time, and it’s because they’ve made their universal truth an integral part of their brand. No matter where you live or where you’re from, you understand that Starbucks is a brand for coffee drinkers across the spectrum. No matter how simple or sophisticated your tastes may be, Starbucks creates a coffee house culture for everyone.

Starbucks is a brand that translates everywhere, from small-town America all the way to the Great Wall of China, because it conveys a universal truth: We all want a warm drink and a place to gather together. But maybe more importantly, the brand speaks to a deeper longing — that we all want a place where we can do those things and feel like we belong, whether we’re ordering an Americano or a Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Starbucks lets you be whatever kind of coffee drinker or really, person, you need to be.

Sur La Table and the Creative Spirit

A few years ago, we worked with Sur La Table, a US-based kitchenware company. They had experienced success within their local market but were looking to expand — specifically to the United Arab Emirates. Like many companies delving into global branding for the first time, they had no idea where to start.

A lot of agencies faced with Sur La Table’s predicament would have recommended completely rebranding these new Middle Eastern stores to fit some misplaced perception of what a kitchen store in the UAE should look like. But they would have realized on the other side that these international stores looked and more importantly, felt, nothing like a Sur La Table store.

To reach this new international market, our advice to them was simply to redraft their logo in Islamic script.

We took a much more straightforward approach to their global marketing challenge not because it seemed like the easiest thing to do but because after getting to know their brand, we knew we didn’t need to reinvent the wheel when it came to their brand strategy.

Our advice stemmed from an understanding and recognition that the Sur La Table brand was already built on the fundamental and universal truth that people cook. Their brand also resonated with this much more interesting concept that the more you cook, the better at it you become — and the more creative you can be.

Sur La Table not only helps you become a more accomplished cook; it provides an outlet for self-expression and creativity. It’s a brand that speaks to a universal need for self-actualization, and that’s a message that’s about as strong as any brand can hope to portray.

Think Universally to Market Globally

Once you’ve uncovered this universal truth and made it a part of your foundational branding strategy, the global marketing process should come naturally.

If you can figure out how your brand connects to a human experience we all share, you don’t need a brand new marketing strategy for each country or region you expand to — you just need to pay attention to how that truth should be expressed in light of different cultural norms.

The key to global marketing is not to make isolated, regional brands work for a global market but to create a universally compelling brand that resonates with markets all over the world.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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Taking Your Packaged Goods East: How to Achieve Success in the Chinese Market

With the ever-shifting marketplace of consumer packaged goods, more and more brands are looking to take their products to a different market on the east side. And no, we don’t just mean on the east side of town but the Eastern hemisphere — namely China. There is a booming market for strategically designed packaged goods across a variety of industries, mainly food and beverage, household goods, and of course beauty products.

In order to be successful overseas, it is important to know the key drivers of purchase intent for Chinese consumers — what they are looking for in their packaging, and inversely, what would make them walk away from your product on shelf.

How and Why the Chinese Shop

The first step in understanding how to design or market your product and brand to succeed in China is to understand their consumption habits. One of the key purchase drivers for the Chinese consumer is social recognition. They shop to be seen more than they shop for necessity. Given this fact, a brand’s ability to be connected and shared on WeChat (which is the Chinese’s version of Facebook but with a lot more features) is paramount to success on and off shelf. Because they are shopping for what will look ‘coolest’ to their friends, the Chinese have become extremely emotional shoppers, like Americans but even more so. Therefore any sort of marketing campaign that leans heavily on occasional uses (like Dove’s campaign targeting Chinese consumers that played on the concept of chocolate indulgence) has the potential to be very successful in this arena.

Another factor to keep in mind is that foreign brands are regarded as premium goods in China. The unique look of American package designs automatically signals quality without having to modify many more elements than language. Take this Nabisco packaging for example. Its simplicity and bright, prominent colors are foreign to those familiar with traditionally cluttered snack packaging that is more common from Chinese-owned brands (on the right). Therefore, without too much change to their existing design language, American brands already have a leg up on the local competition.

Because of this, American brands should absolutely market to a younger generation. According to a McKinsey & Company article, those born before 1985 in China mainly used the Internet for work. Those born after 1985, referred to as the Generation-2 (G2) consumer, are the first real generation to use the Internet for every aspect of their lives, and do so for everything they purchase.

Cultural Considerations in Symbols and Color

Since we just learned that when taking an existing brand overseas, the main element you need to focus on is the language, it is important to mention that this process involves more than just using a translator to change it from English to Mandarin. Symbols, words, and numbers have different connotations in Western vs. Eastern culture. For instance, in the Chinese language, the verbal English of the numerical “eight” sounds very similar to the word meaning “make a fortune.” As a result, Chinese people often try to make connections with the number eight whereas, in western cultures, the number seven is viewed as a symbol for good luck.

Color is another interesting factor to keep in mind since color theory and meaning are very different between American and Chinese cultures. For instance, the color red in Western culture produces a viscerally negative emotional reaction. However in Asian cultures, red symbolizes luck, joy, and happiness. The color white also presents an interesting split in meaning. In the US white is often a color used to symbolize newness, cleanliness, and happiness whereas, in China, white is the color most often worn at funerals and is a symbol of death and mourning.

Overall Packaging Considerations

A dichotomy exists within the Chinese consumer where they want their packages to be bespoke and unique in order for them to stand out in the crowd, but packaging must not be wasteful in their form factor. Starting with the first aspect of this separation, studies have shown that younger shoppers are more often shopping the periphery of Chinese stores. Mintel noted how the use of transparent materials, contemporary design, recyclability, or unique shapes can help draw in younger consumers to the store center. In general, packages with more puzzling form factors or multiple elements that make “unboxing” a longer and more exciting experience are highly valued.

Despite this desire though, China was the first country to pass an ‘Excessive Packaging Law’ in 2011 that prohibited companies from using environmentally dangerous and excessive retail packaging elements. The key rules put in place from this law are:

  • Packaging layers are limited to three.
  • The permitted headspace (void-space) volume is restricted.
  • A maximum ratio is specified between the cost of the packaging and the retail product price.

Therefore, the challenge for American brands is to do more with less in both form factor and differentiation.

Overall, whether your brand’s first application will be viewed in the Chinese market or you are a traditional American brand that is toying with the idea of bringing your product overseas, there are many factors to keep in mind. Social engagement, emotional ties, cross-cultural symbols, proper color use, and unique but not excessive packaging forms are all very important to make that transition a successful one.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

Connect with David